At 03.50 a.m., an owl flew right across my path and almost hit me in the face. It was pitch black. I was convinced the rottweilers from number 3 had jumped the fence and were hot on my tail and I was crawling up the second of 148 Mott Street ascents in 34/28 (my lowest gear), doing my best to keep the heart rate down despite the early drama and about 7 cups of black coffee. It was going to be a long day.
Everesting is something I first heard about a couple of years ago and immediately dismissed as ridiculous, near-impossible and borderline insane. Then I realised this is precisely how my wife, Ines, describes me, and I knew it would be the perfect personal challenge. It’s a thrill to test my limits on the bike and Everesting would certainly do that, both physically and psychologically. It’s been on my radar for a while; all I needed now was a specific motivation, a reason to have a crack…
Miscarriage is a cruel, misunderstood and under-spoken reality for many would-be parents. What better reason to undertake a bonkers cycling challenge than the opportunity to raise a few quid for Tommy’s, who do fantastic work researching the causes of miscarriage and giving hope to couples desperate for support and answers?
The simplicity of Everesting is equally its brutality: ride up and down a hill, any hill you like, until you’ve racked up 29,029ft (8,848m) of vertical ascent – the height of Mount Everest above sea level. The rules, dictated by everesting.cc, say you cannot sleep, your chosen hill must be up-and-down (rather than a loop) and you must complete the required ascent, or “summit”, within 24 hours. The choice of hill is up to you, and tactics come in to play here: pick one that is too steep, and your knees will be buggered before you reach Base Camp; pick a hill whose gradient is too gentle and you will be riding for a week. There is a sweet spot, and that will vary from rider to rider, but the ideal hill would be smooth, consistent and hazard-free. Mott Street is not that hill.
I chose Mott Street because it’s an iconic lump among the London and Essex cycling fraternity. The hill climb course is used by many clubs for their annual lung-busting, vomit-inducing tests of short-course power and lactic [in]tolerance. It runs from the grassy triangular junction with Lippitts Hill up to the obvious crest, 100m beyond High Beech School. Strava reveals the average gradient to be around 7%, but there are long flattish sections and ramps of up to 17% to disrupt your rhythm, send your heart rate into orbit and break both your legs and spirit. To make matters worse, the descent is twisty, riddled with gravel and popular with horses and 4 x 4 traffic. In summary: a tough, inconsistent climb, a sketchy descent and generally a bit of a bastard. A really poor choice for an Everesting attempt. Perfect.
Hill selected, I figured I would need to make somewhere between 135 and 150 ascents (allowing for GPS / Strava error) and budgeted 15 to 20 hours – including stops for malt loaf, Jaffa Cakes, bananas, coffee, cold Coke, sandwiches, pasta and a selection of other carby stodge all lovingly prepared by the world’s best soigneur, Ines. Shout out here to a special woman whose love, patience and generosity made this epic ride possible.
In honesty, the first four hours flew by. Riding on fresh legs off the back of a mini-taper, I felt strong and confident. The novelty of ramp-repping by moonlight, accompanied only by the dawn chorus and the satisfying whirr of a freshly-serviced Dura Ace drivechain, got me to about 40 reps without worry. Sunrise passed without incident; the owl had stopped flirting with my face, and the snarling dogs had seemingly become accustomed to a skinny bloke on two wheels invading their territory every 6 minutes or so. Either that, or they figured I wouldn’t make much of a breakfast and left me to crack on in peace. As I ticked off the reps, the nuances of the climb became familiar and I soon had the lines and braking points dialled in when descending. I only had about 23,000ft to go and life was good.
Then Dan turned up and life got even better. I’m only half-joking: looking back, Dan’s arrival was significant and almost symbolic; it set the tone for the rest of the challenge, and it was quite unexpected. I was shocked and genuinely moved by the number of people who came along during the day to offer support. Friends, family, club-mates and random passers-by turned up to join me for a few laps, cheer from the sidelines or re-stock Base Camp with hot tea, freshly-cooked pasta, good vibes and, erm, a box of Milk Tray (cheers Steve). Also nice of Simon Warren to pop by and ride a lap with me – Simon is author of the 100 Climbs series of books and Mott Street features as number 26 in the original, 100 Greatest Climbs.
Strangers spoke to Ines about the challenge and the cause, and later donated. Residents clapped from their driveways, offered up Lucozade, tweeted about the nutter riding up and down their road and, in one case, even took the time to send me CCTV footage of the final ascent from their security camera. Some guys came back two or three times during the day, sacrificing a good chunk of their weekend to help me crawl closer to the finish line. What started out as a daft personal challenge quickly became a show of friendship, unity and charity. I was touched by the scale of the support and remain very grateful to you all.
With constant company, time passed quickly and I chalked up the reps at a decent rate. It was early afternoon, perhaps about half way (15,000ft or so) when fatigue started creeping in and I began to question whether I could stick it out. After lunch, I hit a real low. I was struggling to keep the pedals turning on the steeper sections and noticed I was shifting around a lot on the bike, trying to utilise different muscle groups and shake out the aches in my neck and lower back. Rests were becoming longer and more frequent as I hit the 20,000ft mark, and all I could think about was when I could stop again. Things were getting really tough, and progress was slowing; by late afternoon it became clear that I’d be going well into the night.
Thankfully the ELV boys, armed with rubbish jokes, jelly babies and a portable speaker, pulled me through a dark couple of hours and guided me like experienced Sherpas up towards the Death Zone (the mountaineering term used to describe altitudes higher than 26,000ft). Ben and Filip deserve special mentions for their efforts, each putting in 30+ rep stints and not once complaining about the snail’s pace or my distinct lack of chat. When 27,000ft popped up on my Garmin, I knew it was in the bag – the last push from about 10:30 p.m. is a bit of a blur but those final few reps definitely felt easier than any of the previous fifty, which really shows that a challenge like this is as psychological as it is physical.
With 19 hours, 23 minutes and 7 seconds on the clock and the Garmin showing 30,104ft, I rolled in to Base Camp at 11:15 p.m. surrounded by many of the friends who had helped me through the day. No guttural roar, no punching the air, no tears. Just a few hugs, some kind words, a cold beer and an overwhelming sense of relief. I’m proud to have ticked this one off, humbled by the support that people have shown, and delighted to have raised almost £2,000 for Tommy’s – ultimately, that’s what this was all about.
If you’d like to make a donation to Tommy’s, I’d be immensely grateful – my sponsorship page is still available online at: